Her gut knotted. All embarrassment evaporated. The helicopter banked left, swooping downward. In a blink of time they’d traveled what would have taken her days to accomplish on her own. Had her brother been gone long enough to make it here? If he was tangled up in such huge and horrible dealings, would he have access to faster modes of transportation now as well?
The chopper steadied into a hover, descent slowing until… Poof. The military aircraft settled with smooth precision. They had arrived at the Alaska Peninsula Power Plant.
And when she stepped from the military aircraft, she prayed she wouldn’t find her brother waiting.
Binoculars in hand, Wade crouched on the rooftop of the outbuilding skirting the power plant. The sun just peeked along the horizon, sparking off the silver structure humming obliviously about fifty yards away.
The SWAT unit had already sealed the place off, bomb-sniffing dogs scouring every inch of the facility. The FBI had arrived minutes ago and the predictable territorial tussles for control had already started.
At least roof duty kept him out of the fray.
He and his team had spread out on top of various outbuildings to watch for suspicious activity and be on call for emergency medical treatment, if needed. They’d been this route hundreds of times, working training exercises and ops with SWAT and the FBI as standby combat medics.
Sunny, Misty, and Flynn were in a nearby trailer with Special Agent Lasky, studying security footage and suspect photos to see if any faces looked familiar. Hopefully by the time they hooked up again, this would all be over and Sunny’s temper would have cooled. Given her brother’s probable involvement, she had to be on edge.
It wasn’t sitting all that well for him either, and he’d never even met the guy.
Major McCabe shifted from boot to boot as he crouched beside him, joints cracking.
Wind whistling fast and colder up high, Wade shot a quick glance sideways, ice pellets stinging his face. “Knees aching, old man?”
“Always.” McCabe tweaked his binoculars, sweeping the side lot while Hugh Franco lay flat on his stomach with a rifle. “I know I’m too damn old to still be jumping out of airplanes, but, well, I’ll keep on until the day they haul me off on a litter.”
Franco kept his eye lined up on the scope. “If your knees hurt so bad from your ranger days, why didn’t you choose something else after OCS, fly a plane or even a desk?”
“I said it hurts,” McCabe answered fast. “I never said I could give it up.”
Below them, SWAT team members darted around the building, the front gates sealed closed. The power plant and grounds around it had been evacuated. Beyond the gate, however, the world carried on like normal, blessedly oblivious. At a harbor dock, a small fishing festival was under way. The FBI had decided the event was far enough away from the plant to continue safely, and too large to stop without creating a stampede.
Wade tweaked the focus on a news crew setting up cameras outside the main gate. “Then why aren’t you still a ranger? Why bother with the swimming and mountain climbing?”
“I guess that’s my story to tell.”
“Fair enough.” Wade scanned past the grid of scaffolding and wires surrounded by chain link fences. A K-9 cop jogged with his German shepherd toward a side entrance, but not with enough speed to cause alarm. The dog probably smelled the moose sausages and fish roasting at the bayside festival. How odd that just seeing the shaggy canine made him think of Sunny’s big mutt. Seemed as if his every thought these days rounded back to her. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I care about her?”
“Nope.” McCabe just grinned.
“Everyone else did after our public argument over the interphone.” He jerked a thumb at Franco. “Starting with this guy here.”
Amazing how they’d found time to jab at him while in the middle of ramping up to catch a bomber. But then this was their life. Standard ops.
Wade glanced at McCabe. “At least you know it’s none of your business.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said dryly, without missing a beat on his scan of the bay on the opposite side of the power plant. “I don’t need to ask because I’ve known you a long time. I’ve seen how low-key you’ve kept other relationships in the past. Even that babe Kammi, the one you actually dated for three months, didn’t get anywhere near this kind of reaction out of you. I can see straight up how far gone you are on Sunny Foster.”
The words struck a little too close to the nerve for his peace of mind, especially considering how soon he would ship out. He needed his full concentration for his Afghanistan deployment. He didn’t need attachments.
He didn’t need to spend every waking minute of every day worrying about what kind of trouble a fearless woman like Sunny was getting into. He didn’t need the mind-bending stress of worrying about her stepping on some kind of land mine—
His mother was the one who’d stepped on a bomb. Not Sunny. And hello Dr. Freud, it was too creepy that he was mixing them up in his head.
Irritation grated his nerves much like how the ragged ice along the roof jabbed and poked, making him snap back. “What makes you such an expert on love? Last time I checked, you’re as bad as Franco, never dating a woman more than a week—long enough for a one-night stand.”
Silence settled on the rooftop thicker than a morning fog. McCabe was staring at him with a you’re-a-dumb-ass look. Franco still stared through the scope of his rifle. But his knuckles were stark white.
Franco had been a serial dater since he’d lost his wife and kid. Razzing the guy about his relationship history was pretty much taboo, and if he weren’t so damn wrapped up in himself he would have remembered that. His pal had been wrecked then and was still half-cracked now.
And Wade was wondering if maybe he understood where Franco was coming from a little better today than he ever had before. With torturous images of his mother being caught in a bomb’s blast hammering through his brain, all he could think of was keeping Sunny safe. She needed to take off those Pollyanna rose-colored glasses from her isolated upbringing and stay put, stay safe. Let people like him, like his team, like Agent Lasky, handle bomb-building fanatics.
“Heads up,” McCabe called, tapping a finger to his earpiece. “One of the explosives-sniffing dogs have found something.”
How did bomb squads manage to do this for a living, day in and day out?
Sunny hooked arms with her sister and watched the power plant in the distance, the metal structure nearly swallowed by morning mist. And watched. And watched with Flynn and Agent Lasky and his team once the bomb had been located. The rest of the plant workers were still behind the fence, about fifty yards farther than where they’d been since the initial evacuation. At least she hadn’t been hustled out of there, that much farther away from Wade.
As much as she tried to help, he kept shuttling her behind guards and into a secured room to look at pictures. She wanted to protect herself as much as anyone, but she knew her community. She had valuable profiling insights to offer on every person in that town. They’d all come through her business at one time or another, working out, grabbing a quick muffin, or using the Internet service.
God, she felt so helpless and angry. She hated not being able to help and was so enraged that she hadn’t somehow known a person in her community, a person close to her, could be capable of something this horrendous. To think that all of their emails, their primary form of communication with the outside world, had been so horribly manipulated made her ill. How many town members had used her Internet?
A hand clamped around her arm and she damn near jumped out of her skin. Looking up sharply, she bumped her head against… Wade’s chin.
She sagged with relief. “Thank God, it’s you. You scared the crap out of me, sneaking up like that.”
“You need to go,” he said abruptly.
The roots of her hair burned with apprehension. She lowered her voice to keep from risking a panic in the crowd. “Have they found a bomb? Is it about to go off? Is that why we were all evacuated so quickly?”
His face tight and closed off, he ducked his head to her ear. “Yes, they’ve found an explosive device. The bomb squad feels confident they can defuse it, but I don’t want you anywhere near here.”
“Wade, if this wasn’t a safe distance, I believe the authorities would have moved us farther out. I want to be on hand in case they catch whoever’s responsible…” Dread closed her throat for a gasp. “Or do they already have someone? Is my brother here? Are you trying to get me away from here so I won’t freak out about my brother? Be honest with me.”
Her voice rose with panic, but it was all she could do not to grab Wade by the parka and shake some answers from him. She could handle anything, except being kept in the dark.
He clasped her shoulders and guided her away from the eavesdropping crowd. His steady, determined step crunched along the ice until he stopped beside a boat dock tucked by the bay. “You need to calm down and do what I say.”
And didn’t that just rub her every last independent nerve the wrong way?
She jerked out of his grip. “Excuse me? Are you ordering me back to the kitchen to rustle up some supper while you go save the world? Do you not grasp that I’ve guided tour groups from our town out of blizzards? Pulled survivors out of avalanches?”
“Is it so damn wrong of me to want you to be safe while I do my job? I can’t be in the middle of a mission in Afghanistan wondering if you’re back here tangling with ecoterrorists or falling off the side of some mountain.”
She resisted the temptation to check for water in her ears because she couldn’t possibly be hearing him correctly. Since when were they talking about his deployment? Wasn’t this an argument about the here and now?
“Is this a backdoor way of asking me to wait for you while you’re overseas?”
“And if it was?”
“I don’t think this is the time to talk about that.”
“Fine, then I’ll make sure one of Lasky’s agents escorts you on the boat over to the lodge where we’ll be staying—”
“I am not leaving. Get that through your head. I have a stake in this today.”
“You’re here to protect your friends.”
“I’m here to protect the ones who aren’t involved. The home I love is about to have the foundation crumble under it. I can’t just drink cocoa by the fire at some lodge and pretend it has no effect on me.”
He clammed up with the stone face and stubborn thrust of his jaw that had earned him his Brick call sign.
“I get that you’re a superhero, macho guy, but that doesn’t mean you can steamroll over me or that you need to protect me.” She rested a hand on his chest, hoping he would reach back and meet her halfway. “It may have escaped your notice, but I’ve done a fine job of taking care of myself this past week.”
“Tell that to the snow machine floating around somewhere in pieces,” he said starkly.
Her anger lost some steam, her heart softening a little as she remembered how freaked-out he’d been then.
“You saved my butt that time, and I’m grateful. But I’ve also carried my own weight. I’m not a wilting flower, and I thought that was something you liked about me.”
“There’s a power plant about to be blown up by some wacko ecoterrorists who lived right under your nose for the whole planning of their crime. Excuse me if I’m not so certain of your objectivity in sifting through the evidence.”
His accusation slapped at her as coldly and harshly as the wind rolling in off the bay.
“I can’t believe you would say that about me. How can you think I would ever let anyone get away with something like this, even subconsciously?”